On a chilly Sunday morning in March 2017 health advocate Aaron Perry gathered black men in the community to run Madison’s Shamrock Shuffle. The annual St. Patrick’s Day Celebration draws a crowd of about 5,000 participants to run a 5K or 10K course through the University of Wisconsin campus. Members of his fitness group called Black Men Run rallied together to support one another in achieving their goals of regular exercise as part of an active lifestyle. To kick off the spring running season with this fun and challenging experience Perry said he wants to encourage black men in Madison to become part of the local athletic scene.
“I wanted to start a running club to get guys interested in participating in these events because they’re good for the community, they’re good for camaraderie,” Perry said. “Any time you can diversify these events it’s always going to be a good thing.”
Himself an avid fitness enthusiast Perry wants to make health and wellness accessible to those for whom consistent physical activity might be difficult. Black Men is a national organization base in Atlanta. Perry started the Madison chapter in 2015. Statistics have shown that African-American men are most likely to suffer from preventable health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. With the encouragement of other black men Perry hopes to reverse these negative health disparities that disproportionately impact the African-American community. So every week on Saturday mornings at Elver Park and Wednesday evenings at Olin Park Perry brings together the Black Men Run group to provide a supportive environment where participants can get the exercise they need to be healthy.
“Our goals are to not rely on anyone to do this for us,” Perry said. “We know that there is continued distrust of the medical community, but we want to be an organization that helps to bridge that relationship. We want me to build that trust again.”
Working out of an office next to JP Hair Design, a barber shop on Madison’s Westside, Perry helps black men to better understand their health care needs. At the Men’s Health & Education Center, operated through Perry’s Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association, he provides basic information to encourage the long-term wellbeing of local residents who are more comfortable in this center of the community. Two computers at the facility are directly connected to health care information at the Harvard School of Medicine and the Mayo Clinic.
“Our overall goal is we want to be a satellite clinic. Our thoughts are if we know that these men are not going to go to the doctor then let’s bring the doctor to them,” Perry said. “We want men to schedule a haircut appointment and then after their hair cut we want them to come right into the health center, get on the computer and meet virtually with a doctor.”
Though Perry cannot prescribe treatment he can help his clients find the medical resources necessary to consult a physician. With a simple check of a visitor’s vital signs, blood pressure, heart rate, weight and body mass index Perry says he can look up the relevant data and point the men he serves in the right direction. Regular meet-ups to run bring his fitness initiative full circle with the fellowship and shared purpose of a community dedicated to good habits of wellbeing.